Ari Handel was studying to become a neuroscientist when he met a young man named Darren Aronofsky at college. Fast-forward a decade or so, and now Handel is Aronofsky’s most frequent collaborator, having coproduced The Wrestler and Black Swan, as well as having cowritten The Fountain.
Their latest film together is Noah, starring Russell Crowe as a man tasked by visions from his God to build an ark before mankind is swept off the planet by an unrelenting flood. The visionary film hits Blu-ray and DVD this week, which afforded us the opportunity to chat with Handel about the movie, the pressures of expectations and biblical adaptations, and if it’ll take another eight years before we see a script written by him on the big screen.
Movies.com: Were there any overt pressures you felt in being stewards of this story, and the notion that this may become the version of Noah for someone who isn’t familiar with other versions?
Handel: Did we feel a responsibility in that? No, because this is a story, like many of these stories, that has been around for a long, long time and there have been many different interpretations of it. So the common interpretation is the one we grew up with kids, which is just the one in pop culture. But when you go back and look at the story in the Bible and begin to analyze it, the pop-culture version is actually very different. A lot of things that people believe are in that story aren’t actually in it, and there’s a great amount of darkness that is in the story that didn’t make it into the pop-culture version.
I guess that takes the pressure off a bit, because if anything it was an opportunity to show another version of the story that actually is from the Bible and is true to the heritage, and that had not been getting as much attention. There’s always going to be other takes on it. Part of the reason these biblical stories are so resonant is because every generation can bring something new to them because they’re so rich with interpretation and ambiguity. That gives us opportunity.
Movies.com: In the early days when it was just you and Aronofsky talking about maybe telling the story of Noah, were there ever any considerations to go even more extreme with the interpretation, to make it overtly sci-fi?
Handel: No. I guess there is that version you can imagine where you take it into a much more sci-fi space, but the way we wanted to tell it was to fit it into the context of early Genesis as much as we could. So if there were fantastic elements in it, those are what we were trying to ground in Genesis and a history of religious interpretations.
I think when people see that world, it may not have been the world they were expecting, but if you go back and look at early Genesis… the version that has been commonly portrayed is an ancient, Judean landscape with robes and sandals and that kind of universe, but that’s not what you see in early Genesis at all. It was another world that was completely wiped out and maybe had different rules than ours. So I think that we wanted to accentuate those fantastical elements, because, again, that’s stuff from the original story that hadn’t really been translated to the secular, pop-culture version of it.
Movies.com: In terms of getting the movie green lit and made, which was the harder vision to pull off, The Fountain or Noah?
Handel: They were both hard. [Laughs] They were both so hard. In some ways it was harder getting The Fountain up and going and then it was fine. But with Noah, the scale of making it was just larger and more complicated and to do postproduction on because of the level of effects, so Noah became more challenging. All of these films are challenging to get made, unfortunately, and you just have to keep pushing through.
Movies.com: Is there something about the challenge that attracts you, or is it just a coincidence that the movies you want to make are the movies no one else is making?
Handel: I think the thing that Darren does and what we’ve done at Protozoa tends to be something you haven’t seen done before, and it’s hard to get stuff made if no one has seen it before because people are afraid of uncertainty. So it’s not surprising, but I think getting any film made is a difficult undertaking because there are always so many partnerships involved. I can’t imagine any of them are ever that easy.
Movies.com: There’s been an eight-year gap between The Fountain and Noah. Will we have to wait another eight years to see one of your scripts adapted?
Handel: We’ll see what happens. It can take so long for a production to germinate and get made, so it’s about finding what project excites us and works, instead of just what we can get made on time. We’re all Protozoa together, so whatever I do will be here and whether it’s something I’m writing or that I’m producing, it will all be here and done together as a team.
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